Yesterday, Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, kicked off the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering here in Washington. The cardinal spoke about the significance of Rerum Novarum, the first papal encyclical to explicitly discuss social justice issues, and how that encyclical remains relevant. I do not yet have a copy of the cardinal’s remarks, so I will not comment upon them, but driving back home from his speech, the thought occurred that the Church’s social teaching has been remarkably consistent through the years. And such years.
In 1891, the year Pope Leo XIII issued Rerum Novarum, papal concerns about socialism were theoretical concerns. There was not, as yet, any country governed by a socialistic government. But, even at the theoretical level, Leo understood that the Church’s traditional defense of the right to private property would be a bulwark against the encroachments of the state.